‘A Thousand Acres’: Eric Aho paints from the landscape


“You’re standing right in the middle of it. You can feel the heat, you can smell the air,” Maureen O’Connor Burgess said, standing beside Eric Aho’s expansive painting, “The Meadow in Bright Sun.” The painting immerses the viewer in the meadow. It’s not representational, although elements connect to natural shapes — hints of a slender tree trunk and flowers in the bright field of yellow and white. The viewer falls into the experience. Aho’s meadow feels especially immediate in Greensboro, where it is in fact, amid meadows and fields. “The Meadow in Bright Sun” is among the artworks in “Eric Aho: A Thousand Acres,” which opened this week at the Highland Center for the Arts and continues until Sept. 9. The show is curated by Burgess, who was named Highland’s curator in June. Aho, recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for 2016, the state’s highest arts award, lives in Saxtons River. Aho’s paintings have been widely exhibited nationally and internationally and are in collections of major institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “A Thousand Acres,” is the artist’s first solo show in central/northern Vermont since the award and offers viewers opportunity to see a broad selection of his recent work. The Highland Center for the Arts Gallery is spectacular setting for Aho’s paintings — for its handsome design, airy connection to the outdoors and its lighting that gives viewers opportunity to experience how the color and brush strokes of Aho’s paintings change from different positions and through the day. The gallery extends around the exterior of the state of the art 250-seat theater. Burgess founded and curates exhibitions (over 60 so far) of the Gallery at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. At the Highland Center, Burgess is planning lectures, workshops and other programming to accompany and complement exhibitions. The title of Aho’s show was inspired by Walt Whitman’s words in “Song of Myself”: “Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? Have you reckon’d the earth much?” “Aho’s paintings — often spare, often large, always dramatic — evoke a sense of place rather than a specific place. He paints what can be sensed but not be seen in the places he loves from memory, in his studio. Aho contemplates the earth – as Whitman beckons us to — with ‘its extremes of weather, the abstracted qualities of light and shadow and the presence of man in the vastness of nature,’” notes the opening panel of the exhibition considering Aho’s visual reckoning of the Earth. Two of Aho’s “Ice Cuts” paintings are among the opening artworks. These “Ice Cuts” refer to the avanto, a hole cut in the ice in Finland for a traditional sauna. The trapezoid of black water is framed by the edges of cut ice. Almost abstract, the forms draw the viewer into their depths and contemplation. Accompanying these icy canvasses, with a similar approach, is a painting inspired by a moment during a California wildfire. On a black night, fires raging in the distance, a friend of Aho’s noted that his swimming pool’s underwater lighting still illuminated it. Aho’s painting, with a brilliant turquoise trapezoid recalling the pool, invites reflection. Memories, profound depth of art history, and experience weave together in Aho’s paintings. His paintings are not recognizable places. His forests, mountains, ice, even illuminated swimming pool, inspire thoughts of something bigger. Marching through the seasons, “June Twilight” draws the viewer to that moment in year’s longest days, when light lingers. Calm and majesty come together in Aho’s meeting of forest and sky. “When you look at a lot of landscape painting you see the landscape — Turner paints a beautiful landscape and you are viewing it, Eric, paints from the landscape. He paints the landscape around him, he makes you stand there with him,” Burgess said. “In ‘The Meadow in Bright Sun,’ you are surrounded by the meadow, you are surrounded by the light. In the ice cuts, you are immersed in the snow and the ice. He paints what he feels and you realize that you are feeling it, too.”   Highland Center for the Arts Highland Center for the Arts presents “A Thousand Acres,” paintings by Saxtons River artist Eric Aho, through Sept. 9, in its gallery, 2875 Hardwick St., Greensboro. Hours are: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; call 802-533-9075, or go online to www.highlandartsvt.org.

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